The Editor's Desk
Visitors to the recent Laser meeting in Munich, Germany, could not fail to have noticed the number of children on the exhibit floor.
Visitors to the recent Laser meeting in Munich, Germany, could not fail to have noticed the number of children on the exhibit floor. From the occasional toddler still in a stroller to groups of high-school-age kids on a field trip with their teachers, children were everywhere, everyday. And although there was an exhibit near the entrance geared specifically to children, their fascination and involvement with all the exhibits and the exhibitors was obvious. This is the type of interaction that can inspire today's children to become tomorrow's scientists and engineers.
I mention this because it's such a striking difference from most (if not all) of the optoelectronics events held here in the USA. In fact, despite its significant educational efforts (see, for example, www.optics4kids.com), the Optical Society of America (OSA; Washington, DC) specifically excludes children under the age of 12 from its exhibits, "for liability and safety reasons" according to OSA executive director Liz Rogan. She too was struck by the number of kids at Laser and noted that the OSA's current rules are ten years old and should probably be reexamined.
Excluding our children from such events eliminates a very real opportunity to get them interested in science and technology. It's all the more important at a time when the number of them choosing science or engineering as a career is dwindling. Personal contact with the passion of a scientist or researcher for what they do is one of the best recruiting tools there is. And such passion leads, ultimately, to the major technological accomplishments like space travel, which are themselves inspirational to many others.
One of NASA's current space projects, the Mars Exploration Rover mission, involves sending two rover vehicles to that planet: one of these vehicles is depicted on this month's cover. Among its cache of instruments is a laser-based spectrometer intended for Martian soil analysis (see page 71). Space-related science projects are long-term by their very nature, with some taking years to complete. So it seems somewhat contradictory that, while we can take a long-term approach to a science project, we tend to take a much more short-term approach to educating our children. And, in the realm of science and engineering, the results are already speaking for themselves—so let's relax those exhibit hall rules and involve our children in what we do.
Stephen G. Anderson
Associate Publisher/Editor in Chief